Often I hear people dismiss the concept of water conservation because no agency or department does a great job of enforcing water conservation rules. For most of us it doesn’t require a threat of a fine or other punitive action to get us to conserve. We conserve because it is the right thing to do. However, this year the City of San Diego and several other cities in California are requiring a Water Conservation Certificate be submitted prior to the sale of a home ensuring compliance. Prescriptive codes like this are designed to conserve water. There are better ways to accomplish the goal.
What is a Water Conservation Certificate?
San Diego Municipal Code section 147.04 states when transferring ownership of a home all plumbing fixtures on the property must be in compliance and certified as having water-conserving plumbing fixtures. This is a way to ensure existing homes comply with new rules. Most water conservation laws deal with new construction not existing homes and existing homes are one of the biggest issues for water waste.
What fixtures are effected?
Toilets – need to meet a max flow rate of 3.5 gpf or 1.6 gpf or less. Upon re-sale of a property, toilets manufactured to use more than 3.5 gpf must be replaced with 1.6 gpf toilets prior to the change of ownership. Bottles, bricks or the installation of alternative flushing devices is prohibited.
Showerheads – Flow restrictors are not acceptable. The entire showerhead must be replaced with a low-flow unit.
Sink Faucets – Faucet aerators can be used to reduce the flow to 2.2 gpm.
Urinals – Urinals manufactured to use more than 1 gpf must be replaced
Prescriptive or Performance Water Conservation Codes
The codes above from San Diego are prescriptive codes for inside the home. We are starting to see similar prescriptive measures in the landscape industry in California. Products and practices like rain shut off devices, manual shut off devices and watering trees on a separate valve from turf are prescriptive measures in the Model Water Efficiency Landscape Ordinance.
These prescriptive codes have excellent water saving potential. The problem is, no matter how many gallons are used in the shower or toilet there is not a way to monitor how long someone showers or how many times they flush the toilet. Same with the prescriptive measures in landscape, someone still manages the irrigation system and they may not use the prescriptive devices in the most responsible manner.
We also have performance-based goals in certain cities in California. Water rates based on water budgets. Each home is given a target goal of how much water is needed on a monthly basis. The goal is based on how many people live in the home and how much landscape area is around the home. Homeowners exceeding the target rate pay substantially higher rates for water. Homeowners are motivated to save water because they pay less. It gives homeowners control over how they save and how much they save. It is only limited by imagination.
Performance Based Codes Work Best
If you want to move people to action there are several effective ways to motivate them:
- Empower water users to make their own choices. We know giving people control of their outcome instead of micro managing a result is the best way to stimulate high performance. Prescriptive codes remove the creative side of conservation for manufacturers and consumers.
- Give them a purpose. Help them understand why it is important to save water. Everyone knows how to save water the real goal is getting them to care about saving water.
- Measure individuals instead of an entire city or state at once. Last year the Governor of California asked for a 25% reduction in water use for all of California. People rose to the challenge and saved water. Individuals received feedback about how much they saved and that was a key to the success.
- Gamification works well too. In Southern California when an energy company provides a discounted rate to homeowners who save energy on high energy use days it is amazing to hear the stories of what people will do to save a few dollars. What happens is neighbors talk to each other about power use and share their daily goals and how much they were able to reduce. It has worked very well in energy management and can work well in water too.
Clearly performance based codes will out perform prescriptive codes. Your monthly water bill becomes your monthly inspection. No agency needs to enforce codes. You are motivated to perform because you care about saving water or saving money or both. You are only limited by your imagination on how to save. Manufacturers, landscapers and designers who can perform best with products or services will rise to the top of their respective industries.
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